Big Horn Basin


From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This Page: Pitchfork Ranch, C. J. Belden and the Development of his photography.

Big Horn Basin Black Hills Buffalo Cambria Casper Cattle Drives Centennial Cheyenne Chugwater Cody Encampment Evanston Deadwood Stage Douglas Dubois Ft. Bridger Ft. Fetterman Ft. Laramie Frontier Days Ghost Towns Gillette G. River F. V. Hayden Tom Horn Jackson Kemmerer Lander Laramie Lincoln Highway Lusk Meeteetse Medicine Bow N. Platte Valley Photos V Rawlins Rock Springs Rudafeha Mine Sheepherding Sheridan Sherman Shoshoni Superior Thermopolis USS Wyoming Yellowstone

Table of Contents
About This Site

Winter Cattle Drive on the Pitchfork, photo by Charles J. Belden

In 1903, Otto Franc the owner of the Pitchfork was found dead of a gunshot wound. He rifle was leaning against a barbed wire fence. The death was ruled to be accidental. The ranch was sold to Louis Graham Phelps (1859-1922), owner of the Z Bar T. Phelps, a Chicago banker, acquired the Z Bar T in 1901 and began an acquisition of other ranches including the "91" which had been established in 1891 by W. H. "Dad" Pearce. Pearce later became the Superintendent of the the Yellowstone Forest Reserve. Other ranches acquired by Phelps included the Ashworth ranch acquired after its owner Richmond Ashworth died of the "D T's, the Pickett Ranch and ultimately A. A. Anderson's Palette Ranch. All were operated under the umbrella of the Phelps Land and Cattle Company and were generally known as the "Pitchfork" Phelps also had an interest with George "Kidney Foot" Merrill in the Greybull Cattle Co. and also with Merrill and Jay L. Torrey in the Rocky Mountain Cattle Company. Phelps bought out Merrill in 1908. Merrill acquired his nickname of "Kidney Foot" as a result of a yelling match with a clerk in Buffalo when the clerk was unable to fit Merrill with footware to Merrill's liking. After Merrill yelled at the clerk with the colorful language of a drover, the clerk responded, "We can fit any man alright, but not a kidney footed gorrilla." As a resulting of the various acquisitions, the Phelps ooperation grew to encompass some 250,000 acres.

In the 1930's and 40's The Pitchfork, in part due to the promotion and photographs of Charles J. Belden (1886-1966), Phelps' son-in-law, became famous as a dude ranch, hosting, among others, Amelia Earhart and Will Rogers.

Trail Herd on the Pitchfork, photo by Charles J. Belden

Charles Belden was born in California and was a 1909 graduate of the Massachusett Institute of Technology. Following graduation, Belden and classmate Eugene Phelps, Louis G. Phelps' son, toured Germany, Italy, and Russia in a new Packard automobile. An account of that journey later appeared as An American Motorist in the Land of the Czar." On the journey he covered three thousand miles in Russia and another ten thousand in the United Kingdom and on the continent of Europe. In Russia he visited the St. Petersburg and the Moscow Automobile Clubs. However, he saw few automobiles in either city and none in the countryside. Belden's interest in photography was sparked when he purchased a Zeiss Palmes camera to record the journey.

In 1912, Belden married Eugene's sister Frances. He began early experimentation with color photography. Several of his color photographs were published as part of a book on the 1915 Pan-American Exposition. He also published an article on a Libyan oasis and the houses of Siwa which were constructed of a mixture of rock salt and mud. A journey through the Sierra Nevada by automobile was featured in Scribner's, "Motoring in the High Sierras." as wwll as an article in Outing Magazine, "Motoring Among the Mountains." In the article he tells his readers "With a reasonably complete equipment for the emergencies and a level head, no one of either sex need fear the demands and problems of a motor tour among the peaks." We find out, however, that part of the reasonably complete equipment is "a good block and tackle." Indeed, in his journey through the Sierras he not only had to use the block and tackle, but had to remove boards from the railroad's snow sheds to put beneath the car's wheels.

Car stuck in Donner Pass, photo by Charles J. Belden, 1915.

Belden's Wyoming photography first appeared in 1918 with an article in Scribner's, "The Motor in Yellowstone." which featured a color photograph of the Falls. He also wrote several articles on the technical aspects of photography, including an early article on color photography.

. .
Left, Western Entrance, Court of the Universe
Right,"Through the Eastern Arch"

. .
Left, South Bay of the Court of the Universe
right, Yellowstone Falls, 1918
Autochromes by Charles J. Belden

Autochromes were invented by Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1904 and came on the market in 1907. The use of the autochrome process was very expensive, using specially prepared glass plates. The plates were coated with translucent potato granules dyed in the three primary colors. The plates cost some twelve-times the cost of black and white plates. It may be that Belden's interest in the autochrome process was sparked at M.I.T. where a demonstration of the new process was given in 1908 by a representative of the Lumière Brothers.

Next page: Belden photography continued.